Quirky Oak Artisan Jewelry

Hand crafted jewelry: bracelets, necklaces and more.


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Joy is Free! Inspirational Quotes with my Personal Photos

Thank you all for the constant feedback I get from my post: How to make a light box for photographing jewelry.

I’m totally amazed at how many people contact me to thank me for the info I shared, or to compliment me on my jewelry photos.

Of course jewelry is not all I photograph. I love photographing nature in my beautiful state of Florida. I share my photos (as well as images taken by my dad) on my inspirational Facebook page Joy is Free.

Follow the page to get inspirational or uplifting quotes paired with my favorite photos. Here are a couple of my favorites … I took these photos at the incredible Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina:

Flower Garden at Boone Hall Plantation, South Carolina

A view of one of the stunning flower gardens at Boone Hall Plantation.

Avenue of Oaks, Boone Hall Plantation

A lone weed under the towering Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation, South Carolina.

Cheers, Caro 
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Why I bought a life size, body form mannequin for photographing jewelry

After opening my jewelry store on Etsy I faced the dilemma all jewelry sellers face: How do I photograph my jewelry in such a way that it looks good while also demonstrating context, proportion, and fit?

I don’t have easy access to live models and I tend to shoot my photos at short notice, so I started off by photographing necklaces on my jewelry displays, like the one pictured below. But I found the displays very limiting and disproportionate to real life sizes. They were also no good for long necklaces.

Jewlery display
Frustrated with my vinyl ‘necks’, I invested in a bust that I thought would solve all my problems:

Jewelry display
I loved this bust’s funky texture (apparently I was almost the only one who did) and life size proportions. But it turned out to be bouncy, assymetrical, and it leaned backwards at a strange angle causing my necklaces to display very differently to how they look on a real person. And if I tilted it forward it fell on it’s face!

So, after hours of research, forum questions, price comparisons, and torturesome financial justifications—I decided to cough up for my full-size fashion mannequin, Maxine.

It was the best thing I ever did.

Maxine - my full sized, body form, fashion mannequin.

Maxine. How do I love her? Let me count the ways.

Overkill, you might say. Maybe, but if my house was on fire she’d be the first thing I’d grab after my dog.

As I already mentioned, once I’d committed to buying a realistic mannequin for photographing my jewelry, I did a huge amount of research to find the perfect mannequin at the best price. Maxine was $99 plus shipping—an extravagance for me, but worth ever penny.

I bought Maxine from eBiz Displays, but unfortunately the company seems no longer to have a website. Store Fixtures, USA has a great selection at reasonable prices.

So, is a full sized mannequin overkill for jewelry photography?

I say no, and here’s why:

  1. Maxine is a human-sized mannequin (also called a body form) so my customers can see the exact proportion of every necklace.
    This also means I can dress her in my clothes if I want to show a necklace in the context of an outfit, or create a ‘look’.
  2. I can pull the camera back for a long shot and show how a necklace looks from a distance, or show off very long necklaces effectively.
  3. She stands just like a person so necklaces hang realistically. Her only disadvantage is that she’s hard and people are soft, and that can make a little bit of a difference in how a necklace hangs.
  4. She’s completely symetrical, so I don’t waste time trying to make necklaces hang straight.
  5. She’s stable, and has some weight. Unlike my previous bust, Maxine does not wobble around, fall over, or sway in the breeze.
  6. She’s white. So my jewelry shows up well against her smooth, pale finish, no matter what colours the jewelry is. I could have gone for flesh tone, but a lot of my pendants are transparent and having white behind them shows their colour more accurately.
  7. She has a longer neck than most other headless mannequins so she models broad ribbon chokers really well.
  8. Because of her human proportions I can test necklaces on her while I’m making them to see if my idea is going to work, and adjust them in position—just like a wedding dress.
  9. She’s a huge time saver. I cannot overstate how time having a life-size, realistic jewelry mannequin has saved me during my photo sessions. Nor how much frustration I’ve been spared now that I no longer have to mess around trying to get my necklaces to look good.
Symmetrical body form for jewelry photography.

Maxine’s straight, symmetrical stance makes it easy to arrange necklaces perfectly.

A long shot shows proportions and context.

Long necklaces on mannequin

A full-size mannequin gives perspective to long necklaces.

This particular body form is height-adjustable up to 5’10, and comes with a bottle of touch-up paint, so she always looks brand new. When not being used Maxine stands in the corner displaying a new necklace. My friends love her…envy her actually, because of her hot bod, and she’s a constant reminder that I am serious about my jewelry business and my customers, and that I have a mission: to make this my day job.

Cheers, Caro
Browse my Shops:
QuirkyOak.etsy.com
TheSlinq.etsy.com
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How to make a cheap photography backdrop for jewelry and fashion shoots

If you do your own product photography for your Etsy store and, like me, you’re not a photographer, then you’ve probably lived through some extremely annoying moments.

I’ve lost count of how much fabric I’ve trashed in despair after thinking it’d make a great photographic backdrop only to find it sucked.

Sucky photography backgrounds

Let me think…there was the browny-gold gauze, the grungy grey, the half-and-half. What was I thinking?

I eventually started developing backdrop envy. I was mildly jealous of people who had access to fabulous mossy stone walls, or grungy walls with textured, peely paint. What can I say? I live in Florida. Everything’s beige.

Here’s a description of what I wanted in a photography backdrop:

  • It must be portable. My house has bad light so I have to schlep my backdrop around outdoors.
  • It must be a neutral, versatile color. I don’t want to change backdrops to suit every piece of jewelry.
  • It must be a darkish color so my mannequin really pops.
  • It must be a warm color to bring out the warmer tones in my dark metals.
  • It must be compact. I have limited storage space and I need something I can slide under a bed or tuck behind a door.
  • It must be tough. I sometimes store it in the garage where it’s exposed to Florida’s heat and humidity.
  • It must be low maintenance. Fabric not paper. I want to make jewelry, not babysit fragile backgrounds.
  • It must have a soft drapey look. I want some background texture but not a distracting pattern.
  • It must be cheap. I’ve already wasted too much money on backdrops that didn’t work.


So, here’s what I came up with:

Photography backdrop idea

Draped photography background with mannequin

I chose chocolate brown for its warmth and richness, and I selected a ‘peachskin’ fabric because it has a soft velvety look and doesn’t crease very easily. If it gets a few creases in storage, I lay it on the carpet and iron it, but the creases normally occur in the middle and are obscured by the mannequin – so I ignore them.

I can achieve a soft or sharp background by adjusting the ‘background sharpness’ setting on my camera. If you don’t have that setting you can get a similar effect by moving the mannequin closer to the background for a sharp effect, or further away for a soft background.

Soft background

This image has a soft background.

Sharp background

This image has a sharper background.

Here’s what I purchased to create a photography backdrop that fulfilled my fairly demanding list of requirements:

  • Three yards of fabric (you could go for less – I wanted to have enough background for a full-body mannequin)
  • Two 1 x 6-inch planks, 8-feet long, already cut, from Lowe’s.
  • A bunch of drawing pins.
Portable photography background.

By moving the two planks closer together or futher apart, I can adjust the depth of the drapes. The image on the left is taken with the planks further apart, and a soft background setting on the camera. The one on the right has the planks close together and a sharp background setting on the camera.

After knocking out a light bulb or two as I carried my new backdrop through the house, I soon realized that 8 feet was way to long for my planks. So my neighbour Bill kindly cut them down to 6’6. Being a perfectionist, he shaped the tops into neat angles and sandpapered them to a smooth finish.

Planks for photographic background

The tops are neatly trimmed, and I use a blob of museum putty to anchor them in place when necessary.

To store the backdrop, I either lean it against a wall in the garage (where the humidity keeps the fabric crease-free), or I put the planks back-to-back and shove them under the bed.

Place the planks back to back and store them under a bed.

In this position I simply pile the fabric on top, still pinned to the planks. You can also wrap it round and round  one of the planks.

Pinning the fabric to the planks was easy. I lay them on the floor next to one another, about 4 feet apart, and pinned the fabric after visually estimating where I wanted my ‘folds’ to go. The folds are simply the fabric folded back on itself in a ‘Z’ shape.  Once you’ve done one side, do the other side. The folds don’t have to be in the exact same positions on both planks—in fact a slightly less symmetrical arrangement gives more natural looking results.

Z-shaped folds

Once you’re done pinning, lean the planks against a wall and position your mannequin (or whatever you’re shooting) in front of the backdrop. Check how the position of the folds looks through your camera and tweak them up or down if necessary. The pins come out of the wood pretty easily for repositioning.

You’re done. This photography backdrop is cheap and easy to make, and really durable. I’ve been dragging mine around the yard for 6 months now and it still looks as good as the day I made it.

Cheers, Caro
Browse my Shops:
QuirkyOak.etsy.com
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How to make a lightbox for photographing jewelry.

Photographing my jewelry is one of my greatest ongoing challenges. Like many Etsy sellers, photography is not really my thing, but it’s a critical part of my selling process.

My house is dark inside and surrounded by a jungle of tropical plants so ‘shoot near a window’ doesn’t work for me. I struggle to get crisp colours and a clean background.

But after months of trial and error, and hundreds of grey, gloomy photos, I came up with a solution that’s working pretty well for me—and it’s really simple.

Here’s a bracelet I photographed using my new system:

A bracelet I photographed on my handmade lightbox.

Not too shabby is it? There are loads of websites that show you how to make light boxes from cardboard boxes and tracing paper. And then there are those wrinkly-looking photography ‘cubes’ – but none of them do it for me, so I created my own one.

Drumroll….here it is:

Lightbox made from a plastic box and paper.Like I said, it’s really simple.

My materials:

1. A shiny new plastic storage container from Target – it’s about 14 inches deep.

2. A piece a very white, firm paper. I bought a whole pad-full from Michael’s so if the paper gets dirty I can just tear out a fresh page.

3. A piece of white foam board.

The plastic box works like tracing paper—it lets a lot of light in, but softens it and reduces harsh reflections.

The paper is firm enough to make a great mini infinity curve giving me a smooth background with no ‘corners’. I stick the paper to the box with a bit of tape. That’s another great thing about using a plastic box…you can stick stuff all over it and rip it off again without damaging the box.

I place the foam board under the plastic box to reflect much-needed light up onto the sides of the box. I have to do my photography outside, so I choose a shady spot with no direct sunlight. I often shoot before 11am when the light is not directly above.

In the scenario above I have the whole set-up resting on a fold-up luggage rack from Bed, Bath and Beyond. I like that I can easily collapse the rack and store it behind my closet door—light isn’t the only thing there’s a shortage of in my house.

Sometimes I use a slightly different set-up: I shoot on the patio, which is partially covered, and I position an OTT-Lite (bought from Michael’s) on each side of the box for extra light. The plastic diffuses and softens the light.

OTT-Lite setup.

Here’s another image I took in my handmade lightbox, and then lightened it a little using picmonkey.com. I stuck the thread to the sides of the box using packaging tape. You can’t easily do that in a cardboard lightbox or a crinkly cube!

Drippz hanging in my lightbox to be photographed.

Finally, here’s another finished shot that I took in the lightbox. I lightened it and brightened it in PhotoShop, but you can see by the original below it that it didn’t need much work. I could have lightened it just as effectively in picmonkey.com.

MaryJane Necklace Lightened

Lightened photo

The original photograph, shot outdoors in my handmade lightbox

The original photograph, shot outdoors in my handmade lightbox

Follow-up Notes to questions about this post:

The ‘columns’: People have asked about the little white columns in the third photo—that thing is a Chain Sta. It’s designed to hold thread or jewelry chain in place while you’re working with it, but I use it for many other crafty things too. It has two little posts to hook chain on, and little jaws for holding thread or wire. The thread I use for hanging things on is this transparent, slightly stretchy plastic cord used for making bracelets.

My camera: For all the photos above I used a Casio Exilim that I got from Costco for just $190. It’s old and scratched up now, but it does the job. If you can look at the photo below without laughing you’ll see my little Casio perching rather majestically on a tripod. The secret is in the tripod! Buy a decent tripod, not a cheap wobbly one—your photo quality will improve immediately.

I set the camera on automatic except for the EV setting which I adjust to +03 or +07 to lighten the photos. Note that not all my photos are taken on this camera. Some of the mannequin photos in my Etsy store were taken with a friend’s Canon D60.

The camera I use for photographing my jewelry.

My impressive camera setup makes professional photographers green with envy  😉

Cheers, Caro
Browse my Shops:
QuirkyOak.etsy.com
TheSlinq.etsy.com  
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How I made a sun protection vest for my dog without sewing a stitch.

When I realized the brutal Florida sun was giving my dog potentially cancerous moles on her back, I decided to make her a protective sun vest.

Problem is, although I’m pretty creative my skills don’t stretch to sewing.

Make a sun protection vest for your dog from a pair of old leggings.

My first attempt was made from an old t-shirt that I doctored, but it kept falling off. I needed something that went all the way around her—something tubular—but I wanted to achieve this without having to use those intimidating little tools: a needle and thread.

I also wanted the fabric to be dense enough to block the sun, yet not heavy enough to make her hot.

So I dug through my old clothes and came across a pair of legging-style shorts in a perfect cotton-spandex mix fabric. I imagined they could be surgically adapted to make an effective sun protection vest for my dog.

I was right. And this is how I did it…

Dog sun protection vest

Instructions for making a dog sun protection vest:

  1. Cut one leg off the leggings.
  2. Make the vest from the leg that has the crotch seam so the vest doesn’t fray, and keep the other leg to practice on.
  3. Estimate where your dog’s legs will poke through, and cut leg-sized slits.
  4. See the photo above to get the idea. The waistband sits at the tail end, and the pooch’s head pokes through what was once your leg hole. If the leggings are a bit too long, don’t cut the excess fabric off until you’ve tried the vest on your dog and determined where to trim them—you want the fabric to reach the collar.

This works best when your dog and your leg are the same size!

Cheers, Caro
Browse my Shops:
QuirkyOak.etsy.com
TheSlinq.etsy.com
Enter my jewelry give-aways: facebook.com/QuirkyOak

Sign up here for my up-coming jewelry give-aways and new designs! I promise not to spam you.